They aren't Israel's most successful, glittering or fashionable bars, and they seem to have been here forever. Here are the top bars that dictate and set the tone of night life in Tel Aviv and allow you, on your Israel tour, to experience Tel Aviv from the inside, with the Israelis.
Minzar: No holds barred
It’s not attractive, not glittering and is far from being fashionable. It is informal, non-conformist and does it best to go against the flow, against the mainstream pursuit of what everyone else is looking for. There aren’t too many places on the Tel Aviv night life scene that have preserved such a special character for over 15 years. Minzar evolved out of a distillation of the residents of Lev Ha’Ir, the heart of Tel Aviv, young and old, bohemian and bourgeoisie, manual workers and people from all parts of the fringes of society. All of them mingle and meld between the bar stools every night, in an authentic mix devoid of mannerisms, which simply don’t work here.
Open 24/7, 60 Allenby Street, 03-517-3015
Bugsy: We came to make a neighborhood
Bars have been around in the Florentine district almost since it started. But, since Bugsy opened, the neighborhood has not been the same. It redefined the district and contributed significantly to the leisure culture there, far more than a TV series (there was a series called Florentine) or any virtual buzz of some enthused real estate entrepreneurs. It endowed the southern Tel Aviv neighborhoods with a previously unknown style, utterly devoid of any inferiority complex and with a street level attitude.
By Tel Aviv standards this is no more than a reasonable bar. It looks like a million other places. The alcoholic offering is average and the prices are reasonable. The food is not amazing and the musical selection is eclectic, the kind of music you can hear in any bar in downtown Tel Aviv. In Florentine terms, too, it doesn’t exactly set the pulse racing, but until not too long ago it was the harbinger of a wave.
Open everyday from 9 am until the last customer leaves, 26 Florentin Street at Washington Boulevard, 03-681-3138
Breakfast Club: Because of, and despite, the scandals
According to all the accepted criteria, Breakfast Club is not exactly a bar. If you want to go by the strict definition, you could possibly call it a dance bar or mini club. Still, you can’t ignore its telling presence on the local scene, and its impact on the local bar culture in the last few years. It often features in the gossip columns in the local press, and it has been the source of scandals that have even found their way into the crime scene columns. It has long been far more a brand than a bar, a symbol of corrupt and unfettered leisure style which was always around, but Breakfast Club redefined the boundaries of the dark basement joint on Rothschild Boulevard.
Open every night from midnight until the last customer leaves, 6 Rothschild Boulevard at Allenby, 03-560-8852
Barbonia: The kicking son
The Barbonia bar started life as the sidekick of the restaurant across the street. That may explain why it has never made too much of an effort and is considered a sort of wild stepson. Its underdog status has attracted a rich range of night owls over the years, from the momentary nouveaux riches to local aristocrats, restless thrill seekers and just people who enjoy a relaxed cramped ambiance and the insatiable hedonism.
Open Sunday through Thursday 24 hours, Friday noon to 6 pm, Saturday noon until the last customer leaves, 192 Ben Yehuda Street, 03-524-0961
Riff-raff: Trivial alternative
Even though Riff-raff is one of the youngest bars on the list, don't ignore the tremendous impact it has had on the city during its short life so far. It was spawned by a vacuum that emerged on the alternative scene after the closure of several places that didn’t survive the recession of the early 21st century. The timing, together with the meticulous tight line of music played there, brought Riff-raff immediate success. Riff-raff is much more than a bar: it is a language, a dress code, a lifestyle and an urban phenomenon. It is a phenomenon that started out as alternative and which, today, looks very trivial.
Open Monday through Saturday from 9 pm until the last customer leaves, 22 Gruzenberg Street, 03-560-0039
Hakhamra Shel Raphael: Private prestige
There are few bars in the city that rival the classy ambiance of Hakhamra Shel Raphael. The isolated location, in the depths of the Chef restaurant, in the recesses of a hotel, keeps out people who wouldn't fit in. The guard, the windy route, the hostess and the sense of discomfort of walking through the center of the restaurant in unsuitable dress complete the selection process. But if you manage to get through all that, you’ll find yourself in one of the most pleasant, best and professional bars in town. It’s worth making the trip just for Chef Raffi Cohen’s food – his crispy focaccia, the rich range of alcohol and quality service.
Open Sunday through Thursday 5 pm until the last customer leaves, Friday noon until the last customer leaves, 87 Hayarkon Street, 03-522-6464
Abraxas: Bourgeoisie with potential
Abraxas was the pioneer of the bar scene on Lilienblum Street. It started out over a decade ago, since when the street and the bars there have been through plenty of ups and downs. The Abraxas has remained rock steady throughout. It has always paid special attention to the music, the design and the quality of the food. It has always kept up with the changes of its regular clientele, moving forward with them, until it has almost become bourgeoisie. But, despite it all, the bar still offers plenty of pick up potential.
Open every day from 9 pm until the last customer leaves, 40 Lilienblum Street, 03-5104435
Armadillo: By the by
Armadillo came into the world at a time when Tel Aviv began to shrink. It was in the winter of 2004 when the leisure spots were becoming institutionalized, under the auspices of the municipality. Downtown bars were constantly pestered by inspectors until they closed down or moved to the orderly leisure spots. Night life at Tel Aviv Port, Yad Harutzim Street and the area around Salameh Street enjoyed an unprecedented surge in popularity, while downtown Tel Aviv emptied out. It was the perfect time for Armadillo to show the world that the small, friendly neighborhood bar has a raison d’etre. The bar attracts the local residents who have to get up for work in the morning but hope to catch something for the night on their way.
Open every day from 6 pm until the last customer leaves, 51 Ahad Ha'Am Street, 03-620-5573
Molly Bloom's: Getting an education
Molly Bloom's has been around for almost ten years, working out of an Irish cocoon on HaYarkon Street. It was the pioneer of the Irish pub phenomenon in Israel and served as a source of inspiration, or reference point, for everyone that followed it. But it isn’t originality that made it the most successful, but the attention to detail, the service and the unique ambiance they have created there – an ambiance made of the perfect mix of the source ethnicity and the local culture. Since its founding, Molly Bloom's has been an intriguing meeting place for English-speaking backpackers, business people, soccer fans and young Israelis who get a drinking education there.
Open Sunday through Thursday 4 pm until the last customer leaves, Friday 2 pm until the last customer leaves. 3 Mendeleh Street at 100 Hayarkon Street, 03-522-1558